Weddings

If (going to) weddings costs too much: Meet the refuseniks

April 30, 2013 at 1:47 PM ET

If you were thinking of inviting Marissa Anwar to your wedding, you might want to save the postage. She is not interested.

Nothing personal. It is just that the 29-year-old operations consultant from Waterloo, Ontario, is tapped out. Last year she attended six weddings — some of which actually had two ceremonies, because of different faiths involved —  and was a bridesmaid three separate times.

It added up to spending $7,000 on everything from gifts to travel, from bridal showers to bachelorette parties. On top of the personal debt Anwar was trying to pay off, the mounting wedding costs made her feel like a hamster on a wheel.

And that was just as a guest. So she made the decision: no mas.

"It adds up really quickly," says Anwar, who has turned down about five invites since instituting her no-go policy. "Girls can be very extravagant with their weddings, but not everyone can afford to drop a few hundred dollars as a wedding guest or a member of the bridal party multiple times a year. It's just too much."

Anwar is not alone in rejecting society's expectation that you tick the "yes" box on all those wedding invites. In an era when young adults are loaded with record student debt and jobs for new graduates seem scarce, many invitees cannot sustain the financial burden of attending multiple weddings in quick succession.

In fact, according to the wedding site TheKnot.com, the average bridesmaid could be facing a bill for $1,385 when adding all potential costs. Add to the mix that more couples than ever are opting for destination events — almost a quarter of all weddings in 2012, up from 20 percent in 2008 — and the price of celebrating your friend's big day can be dear indeed.

"Look at all the spending involved in being in the bridal party," says Anja Winikka, site director for TheKnot.com. "There is the dress, there are accessories, there are flights and hotels for out-of-town guests."

"Then there is all the pre-wedding activity, like bridal showers, bachelorette parties, even engagement parties. It can very easily add up to $1,000 or more for a single wedding."

The financial burden can be especially heavy for those whose friends are all getting married at roughly the same time. In the United States, men are getting hitched at an average age of 28, and women at 26, according to Census data. For young graduates in their late 20s, that can mean getting swarmed with invitations just when they can least afford it.

Hedge fund manager and author James Altucher has a simple method for dealing with those invitations: He turns them down. It does not matter who and it does not matter when. The answer is no.

"If you say yes to one wedding, you have to say yes to them all," says New York City-based Altucher, 45, whose upcoming book "Choose Yourself" is about entrepreneurship in a rapidly changing world. "You should not rip everyone out of their lives, make them wear a whole new wardrobe, and fly to another location, just so they are forced to hang out with people they do not like and be totally uncomfortable for an evening.

"If you added it all up, it would be tens of thousands of dollars — and probably a whole year of your life," he says.

Of course, not everyone thinks weddings are such horrific events. And friends do not tend to take such refusals lightly, especially for a day that is supremely important to them. "I have lost friends because of it," admits Altucher. "People do not get it. And there is no easy way to break it to them."

So how can you put the brakes on out-of-control wedding costs and restore some sanity to your budget without damaging friendships? A few tips from the experts:

- Be honest. If you are in financial straits and just cannot afford to attend a wedding or be a bridesmaid or groomsman, just admit that upfront. "Speak up as early as possible," says Winikka of TheKnot.com. "That way brides and grooms have enough time to deal with the situation. Maybe they will go with someone else in their wedding party — or maybe they will even offer to help out financially."

- Get creative with the costs, suggests Elaine Swann, a San Diego-based etiquette expert. Instead of buying the happy couple a solo gift — which costs an average of $79, or $146 if you are a family member, according to TheKnot.com — go in on a present with other members of the wedding party. "Instead of purchasing everything straight retail, make something memorable and authentic, like putting together a CD of photos of the couple and the time you have spent together." Or instead of buying a seafoam taffeta monstrosity that will never see the light of day again, check out sites like LittleBorrowedDress.com, which allows you to rent couture for the big event and send it back afterward.

- Decline being in the wedding party, but attend the wedding. The most punishing costs for wedding guests come with being a bridesmaid or groomsman. If you eliminate those specific expenses, like Las Vegas bachelor parties, then the costs of simply attending can be more affordable. This way you can still be a part of your friend's special day, without racking up a gigantic credit-card statement that will take ages to pay off.

If you're asked to be in the wedding party, stall your answer until you get all the details of what is expected, says Swann. "If you look at your budget and you really cannot be a bridesmaid or a groomsman, offer to serve in another capacity, like being an usher or handling the guestbook."

All of these little savings can help, unless you're someone like Altucher.

"Weddings are the worst events imaginable," he says. "I don't want to subject myself to one boring event after another. Life is too short."

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